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SABER On the Legacy, Tragedy, and Truth of Graffiti Culture

SABER is a true vandal. In the game for more than 25 years, he is one of the patron saints of L.A. writing culture. He is all heart, living his life as an amen to graffiti.

SABER’s latest work, a wall entitled “Too Many Names,” is a standout even among the solid offerings of the Long Beach Museum of Art’s newly opened exhibition. Vitality and Verve: Transforming the Urban Landscape, presented in collaboration with Thinkspace and POW! WOW!, features 19 site-specific ephemeral murals and installations from a killer line-up of contemporary artists, both with street and studio practices.

SABER was spurred to use the occasion of his wall to engage in a necessary dialogue far from the siren song of mere aesthetic. In his on-the-real-fuck-it style, he decided instead to focus on those who have lost their lives senselessly to police shootings in the last year. The community of Long Beach itself has been reeling from two separate incidences in the last few months where local officers killed young, unarmed men Feras Morad and Hector Morejon. In particular, it was in the story of 19-year-old tagger Hector Morejon that SABER saw himself and those that he came up with. It is Hector’s name that is emblazoned over the list of names of those whose lives were needlessly cut short.

“If the tools given to these officers,” writes SABER in a statement regarding the piece, “were more focused on de-escalation as opposed to shoot first and ask questions later, then thousands of lives could be saved.”

We recently caught up with the artist to talk more about “Too Many Names” and its implications within the context of the LBMA show. What follows is an excerpt of our conversation that ventured from the responsibility inherent in the legacy of writing culture to the real differences between graf and street art.